Checklist for Non-violent Direct Action trainings

This very helpful checklist originally appeared in The Commons.

By Nicola Paris

Often there is so much to cover in a short amount of time during trainings that we inevitably miss things. Particularly this can be easy to do when facilitation is shared among a number of people, and at large convergences.

Here is a checklist of some of the basic principles, and pieces of information that we think you might not want to forget. This has been crowd-sourced from NVDA trainers and CounterAct training. Download a handy printable pdf from the box at the bottom of this page.

Acknowledgement and history

Know where you stand, acknowledge on whose country. Think about what stories you don’t know about this place and what you should.

Support for First Nations mob and people of colour

Be aware of the additional challenges First Nations people can have, both with accessibility to trainings and participation in direct action, and the particular interest and different treatment they might experience from ‘authorities’

Understand people have different experiences of police and system violence, and that as a result we may communicate with those systems differently. Don’t tone police Aboriginal people who may express anger and frustration at authorities. Be aware that people who are Indigenous can physically look very different, and don’t make assumptions.

Housekeeping

Make sure people are physically comfortable. Check in on a participant’s agreement or some basic guidelines and respect, and what folks need for safe and effective training. Deal with practical issues such as accessibility, health care, toilets, food, allergies. Consider issues around confidentiality, media and photos. Introduce the concept of “security culture” and give people some basic guidelines about how to minimise the risk of actions being derailed, or unwittingly sharing information with opponents.

Introductions

If it’s a group where it’s the cultural norm, ask if people want to identify which gender pro-noun they prefer. It may not always be necessary, eg: in a group of conservative farmers it may be more alienating to them, than useful. Most importantly get people talking to one another, and make sure there is time in breaks for this too.

Process

Make sure you mix it up: small groups, big groups; personal writing reflection, sharing stories, case studies, slides and videos; exercises that physically move people around.

Philosophy

Why do we do what we do? This piece is often hard for new facilitators. If in doubt, go with your gut. You don’t have to have a deep understanding of nonviolence theory to understand that:

  1. The system is flawed
  2. Authority is presumed to be in hierarchical institutions, such as government
  3. People are the ones with real power, and how we build and use it can transform our communities
  4. You have probably felt the power of direct action if you are facilitating so just try and put it in your own words

Talk about how and why it feels right to challenge institutions that threaten our water, air, climate & social justice. Talk about how most social change that moves towards greater justice has come from diverse campaigns that started out appearing to be radical but ended up mainstream – by the work of radical activists.

Share stories of actions that resonate with you and ask people for theirs.

Try and find a mix between normalising NVDA, I.e. – giving people the sense that it is something they can do; with also giving them a sense of history and gravity – that they are participating in something with a beautiful, proud and effective history in this country and worldwide.

Strategy

Explain the role of NVDA in a broader campaign, i.e : to delay, to provide dramatic visual representation of opposition, to make the moral case for action. Talk about when it can be useful, and when it can’t be. Be open to critique.

Also, encourage people to have clear goals for individual actions and an end point – what do you want to have achieved for the day? What was the intent of the action – to build the groups capacity? To delay work? To get media? Different objectives could result in different ways for the action to play out.

Look and feel

Be mindful of how media will perceive your action, as well as the broader community. Ensure you have someone to wrangle media and be aware of ways your action could misconstrued.

Think about the “tone” – is it somber, or cheerful? What is the “action logic” ie – does it make sense? Can a photo give a clear understanding of why you are there, and what you are doing?

Practical

What roles do you need to pull off an action? Answer – lots – and only a few of them are “arrestable”. Everyone has a place, and all skills are useful.

This section is simple but very important to give new people a sense that things are organised. Explain the necessity of key roles that can help de-escalate and keep people safer – i.e. worker and police liaison.

Demonstrate tools/tactics and introduce the idea of “strategic arrest” E.g. – people don’t lock on to be hard core but to hold the space longer, it is a strategic use of human resources – one person can effectively stop work for a long time…it’s not as scary as you think etc. Gear to demonstrate if possible, photos and video very useful here.

Personal

Make sure what you have what you need to be comfortable during an action:

  • Sunscreen, hat or rain weather gear
  • Something to sit on if in cold weather, or on hot or cold machinery
  • Water, don’t get dehydrated *gastrolyte can help to drink less so you need to wee less (talk frankly about toilet stuff)
  • Snacks
  • Phone, radio or method of communication (ensure a pin on phone and phone charged and a battery pack if doing social media)
  • Medication and ensure your buddy or police liaison know about any medical conditions
  • ID (plus ensure people know your legal birth name on it)

Emotional

Think about how people respond to conflict, stress and fear. It is vital for people to feel safe talking about fears and barriers to action. Participants will often get a sense of relief simply from realising many fears are shared. Many fears can be addressed; however, it is important that no one is ever told their fear is unreasonable or not taken seriously. Talk about external indicators, if people have them, with an affinity group, and how they feel and act when under stress.

Let people know how to support you if they see you acting in a certain way. Give trusted people permission to intervene if you are going to act in a way you might later regret. Talk about how to keep calm and de-escalate situations, and the role of liaisons, peacekeepers, clowns or knitting nanas to assist this.

Legals

In Australia the laws differ from state to state, but here are some universal points

  • Just because you participate in an arrestable action doesn’t mean you get arrested
  • Just because you get arrested doesn’t mean you get charged
  • Just because you get charged doesn’t mean you have a criminal record
  • Just because you have a criminal record doesn’t mean you can’t get a job, or travel, or work with children

The short version: for nonviolent offences such as trespass the sanctions are often very minor and can result in no conviction recorded.

REMEMBER: to write the number of a lawyer or legal support/cop shop pick up on your arm, and carry ID if you want to be processed quickly (or not, if you specifically don’t)

There are slight differences state to state but you generally only need to give your name and address (and sometimes DOB) if questioned… and there generally needs to be a good reason (i.e. they suspect you of committing an offence) … so don’t give more than that and exercise your right to NO COMMENT.

Encourage the group philosophy of support for actions continuing until the last person goes through court. Ensure legal support is set up, and hopefully a lawyer’s number on people’s arms (or cop shop pick up person)

Facilitator tips

Be brave and be honest. Encourage people to share the space. Where possible try and get the participants to find their own way to the answers – rather than telling them what to think…design any exercises to draw out their own learning. Be mindful of exclusive language and acronyms.

Admitting failure is useful for learning for everyone and disarming for the group. However – projecting confidence is vital, especially to brand newcomers… so try and find a balance.

Invite challengers in… if people are defiant and have huge issues and disagreements, rather than relegate them to the side, if you can hold the space it is better to invite them in – use their challenges to allow the group to debate the thorny issues.

Have fun!

Debrief

Always de-brief, and share learnings.

3 thoughts on “Checklist for Non-violent Direct Action trainings”

  1. All good except consider:

    1. Leave your phone and ID at home so if you are arrested the police will not be able to capture your data and contacts.
    2. Designate a video shooter to stand back at a safer areas and photograph interactions with police and others.
    3. Have a retreat strategy and a rally point with water and food.
    4. Leave name, notification contact and phone number with organizers in handwritten format in case you are arrested. Destroy after event.
    5. Contact National lawyer’s Guild in advance to see if the Greenhats can observe. I am one.

  2. This article advises us to “be mindful of exclusive language,” and yet appears to be written in a language known only to the author.

    For example, why is “pro-noun” hyphenated? What is a “cop shop pick up,” and which word there is the verb? How did “wee” become a verb, instead of an adjective? What, if anything, does “Don’t tone police Aboriginal people” mean, and (again) which of those words is the verb? WTF is a “knitting nana”?

    And this classic reminder: “Be aware that people who are Indigenous can look very different.”

    REALLY? You mean they don’t all look like Elizabeth Warren? Who knew?

  3. Let me translate some of the Australianisms for you:

    “cop shop pick up” = the friend who is coming to pick you up from the police station
    “wee” = urinate

    I’m not sure of the rest in terms of the requirements of queer theory, or what she’s talking about regarding Indigenous people.

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